R Clyde Williams

Radio operator Clyde Williams in 1958

Raymond Clyde Williams
Born: 30 Aug 1931 at Hastings

Worked at:

Amateur radio: ZL2JT from 1958, relicensed as ZL2UQ in Levin since 1988

In 2016 and 2017, Clyde Williams wrote several fascinating articles for maritimeradio.org (see links above).

A conversation with Clyde Williams

How did you get started as a radio operator?

Clyde Williams at age 85, 26 September 2016

Clyde Williams at age 85, 26 September 2016

I started work as telegraph message boy in Waipukurau, in April 1947 when I was 15. Then I went to Morse School at Trentham in May 1948. To go to the morse school you had have to have passed a standard morse test of receiving and sending at 12 WPM with no errors or “writing overs” allowed.

You learned the skills in your own time and with the voluntary help of one or more of the local telegraph operators. The Department lent you a morse key and sounder board to assist. You did not have to do this and it was not a black mark if you did not take up this possibility. However you could not then get a position in Class 6 (the lowest class of the 1st Division) without first training as as a telegraphist.

Can you tell us a bit about the Post Office’s Morse School that you attended?

Mr Jopsen was the Chief Instructor. Jack Douglas was the assistant instructor. We all learned “sounder” morse only; all internal morse circuits were sounder-based.

Morse School at the Post Office training centre within the Trentham military camp, May 1948. The people with an asterisk after their name went on to work in the radio sector. Standing at the back: Assistant instructor Jack Douglas (ex ZLW/ZLC/ZLB). Back row from left: Don George, Ken Eustace, Stan Allen* (ZLW), Bernie Harding, Ian Hudson, Tom Scott* (ZLD/ZLW/ZME). Front row from left: Des Dufty, Clyde Williams* (ZLW/ZME/ZMV/ZLC/ZKR-briefly 3 weeks 1955), Doug Pellow* (ZLB), Eric Bissett, Jack Gardner* (ZLW/Radio Section/RI NA), Lloyd Nelson. In front: Merve Walsh.

Morse School at the Post Office training centre within the Trentham military camp, May 1948. The people with an asterisk after their name went on to work in the radio sector. Standing at the back: Assistant instructor Jack Douglas (ex ZLW/ZLC/ZLB). Back row from left: Don George, Ken Eustace, Stan Allen* (ZLW), Bernie Harding, Ian Hudson, Tom Scott* (ZLD/ZLW/ZME). Front row from left: Des Dufty, Clyde Williams* (ZLW/ZME/ZMV/ZLC/ZKR-briefly 3 weeks 1955), Doug Pellow* (ZLB), Eric Bissett, Jack Gardner* (ZLW/Radio Section/RI NA), Lloyd Nelson. In front: Merve Walsh. Photo courtesy Clyde Williams. Click to enlarge.

So when did you learn radio morse – CW that is?

Only Tom Scott and I went straight to radio stations, Tom to Auckland Radio ZLD and I to Wellington Radio ZLW. We were simply placed in front of a receiver and told to “get on with it” as it were.

Was it hard making the switch to radio code?

I cannot remember any great difficulty changing from sounder morse to CW. There was a recognition that should you fail to pick it up you would be returned at very short notice to a telegraph office. There was no counselling and that sort of crap in those days. You either did the job or returned to whence you came from. I can only remember two who left reasonably quickly after arrival; one because his fiancée hated Wellington and the other who found it hard to be away from home. Inability to read CW was not a factor in either case.

What was it like working as a radio operator?

All operators were graded A, B or C – A being the really experienced men and C being the least experienced. All the rostered shifts were graded the same way, e.g. 500kHz (actually it was called 600 meters then) and the 3.4MHz aeradio circuits were done by A-grade operators. One of these was Harry Seebeck (Tango) who could actually make a brass telegraph key ‘sing’ – such was his ability to send really fast morse.

Most of the A men could send 30+ wpm and that was on straight keys. “Bugs” were not permitted, although one operator, Tommy Thompson, had a ‘brass’ arm and he was allowed to use a “bug”.

Clyde Williams on 500kHz at Wellington Radio ZLW in 1949. At this time he was on the 'B roster' so would have been relieving for an A operator.

Clyde Williams on 500kHz at Wellington Radio ZLW in 1949. At this time he was on the ‘B roster’ so would have been relieving for an A operator. Photo courtesy Clyde Williams

B-grade operators handled the HF maritime and the less busy aeradio watches. C operators made the tea, swept the floor, handled the sounder circuit to the Wellington telegraph office, the teleprinter circuits to the Met Office and to the Irirangi Naval station ZLO [throughout the British Empire the appropriate Navy handled all inter-area civilian traffic] and did the 1840kHz radiotelephone watch for small ships. We scum, when there was nothing else to be done, were permitted to second ‘phone’ an A or B circuit.

After about six months, generally, we could expect to be put on B watches by ourselves. Some watches were actually done in Room 53 at the CPO in Featherston Street. All traffic to and from ZKN (Niue), ZKR (Rarotonga), ZMA and ZLC (Chatham Islands) plus other circuits to Tonga, Tahiti and KFS (San Francisco) were handled there. An early “radiopicture” service was also done from there.

One other watch was carried out at the Met Office in Kelburn where we “manned” the weather office’s internal teleprinter network and copied morse transmissions from the Australian weather station (VNHQ Coonawarra) every three hours. Each of these transmissions could be hundreds of 5-figure coded summaries of reports recorded at Australian weather stations.

In 1952, while at Milford Sound Radio ZMV and through a ships Radio Officer I knew, I purchased from Boston USA a brand new genuine Vibroplex bug – serial number 269402.

Clyde's Vibroplex 'Original' bug (semi-automatic telegraph key)

Clyde’s Vibroplex ‘Original’ bug (semi-automatic telegraph key). Photo: Clyde Williams

I promptly started to use it when exchanging traffic with Awarua Radio ZLB. I would have to pity the tribulations of the receiving operators. Anyway, one morning the ZLB operator broke my transmission and said “would you throw that bloody thing away” I responded with “what’s the matter you are not so bloody hot yourself”.

Unfortunately the operator was the Senior Supervisor at ZLB, and to say the sky fell in on me that day was an understatement. I did persevere with the bug, however, and became quite proficient in later years.

At Chatham Islands Radio in 1957

At Chatham Islands Radio in 1957, adults L-R: Pat Columb (Supt), Doug Condell, Clyde Williams, Nancy Columb and Bill Riley. Photo courtesy Clyde Williams

At the times when I was involved with the Radio Division every male person employed came to the Division with previous service in one or more of the radio stations. When I joined the Division in 1960 the Principal was Dave Shepherd and the Senior Supervisor was Don Vaughan. Jack Carlisle, Bob Pinker, and Don McFarlane comprised the rest of the male staff.

Don Vaughan would have been one of the luckiest people alive. He was stationed in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1941 and had he not returned to Suva early in that year his name might have also appeared on the Roll of Honour.

Jack Carlisle, who later became Principal of the Division, served on Pitcairn Island, one of the few New Zealand operators that staffed that station during the war years.

(September 2016)